It’s not a good trip, exactly, but the Lips’ experiments in loveless desolation are as uplifting as they are terrifying
When Wayne Coyne sang “Do you realise/We’re floating in space?” on The Flaming Lips’ 2002 album ‘Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots’ it came from a sense of wonder and an acceptance of the majesty and mystery of the universe, a place where human beings are just fleas on atoms. The message was: sure, it’s a scary thought, so just embrace it. What a trip, eh? Three albums and 11 years later, ‘The Terror’ is the mother, grandmother and great-aunt of all comedowns. Even more so coming off the back of jolly capers like last year’s ‘The Flaming Lips And Heady Fwends’ and berserk remakes of Pink Floyd, King Crimson and Stone Roses albums.
For a time it looked as if the now 52-year-old Coyne and the Lips were content painting themselves into a corner as animal-suited eccentrics, save the odd spectacular excursion such as 2009’s ‘Embryonic’ album. Happily – or more accurately, miserably – they’ve shifted to a more furrow-browed route and are here to lift the curtain on a world without love. Here’s the news: it’s no picnic.
Recorded while ‘…Heady Fwends’ was mixed, ‘The Terror’ gestated in the room next door, making thrifty use of what Coyne calls the “sleepwalker’s dimension” – the hours beyond the early hours when you’re free of worldly constraints and untethered by rational thought. Well, that would explain the abstract patterns of ‘Be Free, A Way’, where Moog worms around a post-apocalyptic choir singing an unresolved psalm; or the title track with its gonging synths and lyrics that sum up the main thrust: “We are all standing alone… we don’t control the controls”. ‘The Terror’, you see, is a panic-attack concept album that takes the theory ‘all you need is love’ and imagines how to carry on in its absence.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Ah, who are we kidding? It is all doom and gloom, but in a magnificent way. The unforgiving passages of desolate krautrock on ‘You Lust’ and alarm-clock pulses on ‘You Are Alone’ make the heartbreaking chord change on ‘Try To Explain’ all the more devastating, the Sabbath-rocking coda to ‘Always There… In Our Hearts’ all the more welcoming. And then there’s ‘Butterfly, How Long It Takes To Die’, in which Coyne takes a beautiful sunset and turns it into a metaphor for the slow crawl to death. Bleak stuff, but twangs of gothic-funk guitar and ambient synths sweeten all that angst.
This record won’t have thousands of hands propelling Coyne above their heads in a plastic ball when the band tour it. It’s the sound of the man inside the ball feeling an unknowable fear and trying to accept it. The rest of us should join him in his strife, if only to enjoy that psychedelic drone groove. It’s an anxious riot.